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Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj is hoping to lure diners back downtown with La Bise. The French restaurant replaces The Oval Room, which had a 26-year run across from the White House on Connecticut Avenue NW. When it opens on Friday, June 18, Executive Chef Tyler Stout will helm a new open kitchen visible from the extended bar area. For solo diners, the bar is the best seat in the house.
The menu is smart in that it straddles modern and traditional. “If I did all modern food, people would say, ‘This is not French,” Bajaj explains. “Sometimes you read menus and they could be from anywhere in Europe.”
When people set out for a French dining experience, sometimes they’re dead set on certain dishes like steak tartare or steak frites. At La Bise, you can order both of those just as easily as you can try grilled Maine lobster sauced with a ginger-carrot emulsion or wild sturgeon with razor clams and sugar snap peas.
But Bajaj and Stout don’t want a stagnant menu. Some French brasseries can put out flawless food for months on end, but rarely introduce anything new. “I believe in 52 seasons a year,” Stout says. “The menu is always going to change. Nothing is going to stay the same besides a few staples.”
Stout has spent the majority of his career in the D.C. area, with stops at Newton’s Table, Barrel and Crow, and Macon Bistro & Larder. Most recently he worked for three years in Boston where he says he saw an opportunity to bring the food at Troquet on South up to the level of its wine list. He was lured back to D.C. by the promise of stability with an established restaurant group and Bajaj’s plan for La Bise, which means “kiss” in French. “French is me,” Stout says. “That’s what I will forever do.”
He recommends diners try the duck on their first visit. The preparation is a 12-day process that starts with dry aging the bird. Then it’s roasted with the bone to impart more flavor, glazed, and spiced. He makes a confit of the leg meat, pulls it, presses it with herbs, and then uses it as a filling for freshly rolled cannelloni. The duck is accompanied by sweet spring turnips, heirloom cherries, and a jus made from the trimmings of the foie gras starter. See the full menu below.
Asked how he will measure his success, Stout admits to swinging for a Michelin star, but mostly because he hopes his food meets those high standards. But hospitality and a good time come first. “I want the excitement, I want the energy,” Stout says. “I want this to be a fun restaurant where people can just come in. We also want to be a destination restaurant, but that’s not the end of it.”
The restaurant got a full redesign that matches the direction Bajaj is taking the restaurant. Look for a giant canvas print of Notre-Dame and the Left Bank, 1,000 mirror panels, recognizable art that pops like a Salvador Dalí print, and fun salmon-colored wallpaper depicting female figures. Bajaj is also behind Modena, Rasika, Annabelle, Bombay Club, and other D.C. restaurants and has a habit getting restless and remodeling them to keep up with current design trends.
La Bise will open for dinner first, with lunch to follow. Dinner will offered Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5 to 9:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations can be made on OpenTable.
La Bise, 800 Connecticut Ave. NW, labisedc.com